Friday, July 21, 2006

Mass communication: Criticizing Israel does not make you anti-Semitic

In her regular column in the Ottawa Citizen on July 20, " Quebec's ugly little bias," Brigitte Pellerin accuses Quebec pundits who are critical of Israel's actions in Lebanon of anti-Semitism.

While Israel does have the right to defend itself, and while Hezbollah is admittedly dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state, Israel surely isn't above criticism. Even Kofi Annan criticized the level of Israel's reaction.

But criticizing Israel doesn't necessarily make one anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic, any more than criticizing the Bush administration makes you anti-American. Many, many loyal Americans criticize the White House regularly.

The American forces take a lot of flack over their behaviour, strategies and decisions in Afghanistan, in Iraq and around the world. And rightly so. Shouldn't we free, thinking people hold the government of Israel to the same standard?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Weasel Words

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Lebanon, including bombing of the Beirut airport and residential areas in Beirut, killing 50 civilians and only one Hizbollah fighter, “measured.”

Measured? What exactly does that mean? Measured with what? Against what? Is he saying it’s justified? He seems to be implying that, because also called Hizbollah’s attacks “unjustified,” and said that Israel has the right to defend itself.
All safe statements, in the weaseliest sense. Sure, any country has the right to defend itself. But I’m not alone in seeing the Israeli actions as escalation, not measured response. Time magazine, the Globe and Mail newspaper and other major Western news outlets have stated the Israel is escalating the conflict. The foreign ministers of both France and Italy called Israel's attack "disproportionate."

Comedian Jon Stewart described it as “World War Three breaking out” on the Daily Show on July 13, and even George W. Bush has promised Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to pressure Israel to stop the attacks.

The lesson here, for Prime Minister Harper and other weasels, is to choose your weasel words more carefully. If this is a “measured” response, then Israel should also measure the risk more carefully. And Harper should measure his words.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Thanks, Hilary Swank

What drives a lot of attention to this site? Apparently, it’s Hilary Swank.

Three years ago, the first edition of Written Words cited Hilary Swank as an example of a too-thin actress. Since then, other celebrities have pushed the limits of anorexia even farther. But for whatever reason, having the name “Hilary Swank” in the site apparently attracts a lot of attention. The hits overload my ISP’s traffic limits every month!

So thanks, Hilary Swank, for the traffic.

Bad ad: Canadian Tire blows again

Poor kids: all they have is a lake, a hot summer day, bathing suits, floating dock — but no Aquaglide. They have to endure the efforts of their hapless Dad (dads are always hapless on TV) trying to entertain them.

Come on, Dad. What fun can a child have at a lake without an overpriced inflatable raft? What’s another four hundred bucks when you’ve already spent the money on the cottage rental, gas for the trip, treats, snacks and everything else? And where else can you get it but that ubiquitous Canadian resource, Canadian Tire?

A few months back, all the bloggers (The Written Word included) had great fun over the fact that the smug Canadian Tire guy, Ted Simonette, was discontinued. Canadian Tire hired a new ad agency, the renowned Taxi Canada to create a new line of ads.

The new series were better, showing realistic situations and products in use — the same things that Ted Simonette did, but much better.

But the latest ad for the Aquaglide inflatable raft shows that even an agency with as many awards as Taxi can misstep.

While Ted Simonette irritated us all with his smugness, the spoiled whininess of the kids really sets me off. Would I buy these brats a $400 toy when they couldn’t have fun with the lake? Would you?

TV wherever there’s Windows

Now you can watch live or recorded television on any Windows computer equipped with WinTV-PVR from Hauppauge Computer Works of (where else) Happauge, New York.

Hauppauge makes TV receivers for Windows computers, and Orb’s technology allows users to connect to their personal systems from anywhere with an Internet connection. The combination allows users to watch live or recorded TV streaming from their home PCs on mobile phones and PDAs, anywhere in the world.

So, if you can’t bear to miss a game or an installment of your favorite soap, you can watch it on your Blackberry while in a cab.

Now, all we need is a Macintosh version.

Find out more at

Meanwhile, Motorola’s Whole Home Media Services allows you to channel digital TV signals from the digital box or Tivo to any set in the house, using existing wiring. So now, you don’t have to pay for a second digital box for every TV set in your house. Sounds nice.

Find out more at

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Open a dialogue

Sheikh Riyadh ul Haq, a controversial Muslim scholar from the U.K., decided not to try to enter Canada again, but instead delivered a lecture on being a better Muslim to the Youth Tarbiyah Conference in Scarborough, Ontario by video link.

A coalition of Canadian Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and gay rights groups operating under the banner of the Canadian Coalition for Democracies contacted Canadian Immigration Minister Monte Solberg to protest his visit here because, they said, he glorifies martyrdom and preaches hatred toward Jews, Hindus, moderate Muslims and homosexuals.

For example, his published speeches quote him as saying that the Jews and Hindus harbour the greatest hatred for Muslims, and apologized for “polluting” a mosque by saying the word “homosexual.”

Sheikh ul-Haq, for his part, said he did no such thing and that his statements had been taken out of context.

The question is: should we, a free, democratic society, ban the expression of ideas that make us uncomfortable? I would not agree with most of the speeches attributed to the Sheikh, but I can see where he might be coming from. In other words, I think he could make a case for some of his more objectionable statements. We may not agree with them, but shouldn’t we fight for his right to say them?

I don’t think we should defend the expression of outright hatred, but the quotes brought up by the Coalition for Democracies don’t seem to cross that line (although they do get awfully close).

The efforts of the Coalition did not stop the Sheikh from communicating his ideas. In fact, it gave them more prominence.

But shouldn’t we be doing that anyway? Isn’t the best way to combat hatred and destructive ideologies to confront them?

If we bar this man’s message from open discourse, we merely push it underground, where it festers. In the open, we can show everyone who’s interest how false the argument for hatred is; but if we don’t see it, then we can’t do that and we inadvertently grant the hate mongers more power.

Ban ul-Haq or confront him? Tell me what you think.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Perversion of communication

It’s said that back in 1991, Boris Yeltsin defeated the Communist hard-liners’ coup with a Macintosh computer, a laser printer and a fax machine. After arresting the crusading Mikhail Gorbachev, communist hardliners had their troops surround the “Russian White House,” where Yeltsin was holed up — but they neglected to cut off the phone lines. Yeltsin, so the story goes, used a Macintosh and fax machine — e-mail wasn’t that prevalent in 1991, especially in the then USSR — to rally the Russian people, who came out in unarmed thousands to protect the White House from the troops. One tank unit even joined the demonstration, allowing Yeltsin to make his famous speech from atop Tank No. 110. Within days, the coup d’etat was over, and within a few months, the Soviet Union was no more.

It’s my favourite story about the power of communication. And it was cited by many as an example of the “democratization of communication” — how new tools, like desktop publishing, personal computers and especially the Internet, were bringing the power of the press to everyday folks.

Since 2001, though, the world has seen the perversion of low-cost, high-power communications tools by terrorists. The latest example comes from the Brampton, Ontario courtroom where 17 men and boys are being tried for allegedly conspiring to commit terrorism in Canada. CBC News got a training video used to inspire would-be Canadian jihadists.
The video features Osama Bin Laden, who says “Therefore each individual from amongst the Muslims should come forth to kill the Jews and Americans,” says Bin Laden on the tape, “for killing them is foremost of obligations and the greatest form of worship.”


Now, the abuse of technology for spreading hate and warping young personalities — okay, I’ll say it, for evil — is nothing new. Demagogues from Robespierre to Hitler have used the tools available to spread their messages.
What’s disturbing is that the widespread availability of today’s communications tools has engendered such a huge amount of hate. The fact that it’s aimed straight at my own culture and values is disturbing, too.
Is it inescapable to feel otherwise about a group who calls your cherished ideas, like individual freedom, equality of the sexes and open expression?

Kudos to Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress for such strong, public and consistent arguments for rationality among Muslim Canadians! He says he felt deeply offended” by a speech made by Kuwaiti Islamisst scholar Tareq Al Suwaidian, who told a group in Toronto that “Western civilization is rotten from within and nearing collapse ... it (the West) will continue to grow until an outside force hits it and you will be surprised at how quickly it falls."

Mr. Fatah is the MCC’s Communications Director, and apparently write most of the group’s website (www.; he has appeared on CBC radio to call for an end to foreign funding of religious institutions. The MCC also argues against religious courts in Canada, terrorism, the “war on terror,” and for equal rights.
It’s so good to hear from such a courageous, committed and rational voice. Let him and the MCC hear your opinions — send them an e-mail at